I’ve heard it said that there are three choices will determine the course of a person’s life: the God we choose to worship, the friendships we choose to cultivate, and the books we choose to read. Of those three, perhaps the most challenging is the friendships we choose to cultivate. Given that God bequeaths to each of us a limited number of years on Earth, and that some of the people in our “inner circle” are predetermined (e.g. the family into which we are born), we must be circumspect in choosing our closest friends and advisors.
If we choose wisely, we will reap untold benefits. If we choose foolishly, we will reap devastating consequences. Thus, we must practice wisdom and discernment when evaluating the complicated array of people who surround us: will a close relationship with this person lead me closer to God? Will he or she provide wise counsel? Will the time I spend with this person provide a good return on investment?
The Bible’s admonition concerning “testing the spirits” also applies to discernment in friendships: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 Jn 4:1). Indeed, the people with whom we are the closes will have an outsized influence on our lives. We should test their doctrine and conduct (1 Cor 12:10; 14:29), evaluate their inner lives rather than their external appearances (Jn 7:24), and assess whether their words of “wisdom” come from God or from the Evil One (1 Jn 4:3-4).
Thus, in this post, we will evaluate the cast of characters in Job’s life drama. Each of the characters in his story is an archetypal portrayal of the type of influences we experience in everyday life. We will examine not only Job’s wife, friends, and acquaintances, but also the unseen spiritual forces and natural creatures who populated his space.
Whether or not we are aware, Satan is, in fact, one of the actors in our lives. During the Bible’s opening salvo (Gen 1-3), Satan appears, using a serpent as his mouthpiece to persuade Adam and Eve to reject God’s benevolent rule. Throughout Scripture, Satan periodically emerges as the foregrounded actor in a given narrative. We are told that he questions the goodness and truth of God’s word (Gen 3:1-7); is a slanderer (Rev 12:10), the father of lies (Jn 8:44), and the tempter of Christ (Mt 4:1-11). We are further told that his body language is important; he masquerades as a good angel (2 Cor 11:14) and a false Trinity (Rev 16:13).
The book of Job provides a fascinating portrait of Satan. In the Job narrative, he is called the hasatan (accuser), an enemy of God. In Job 1:6-12, the heavenly beings present themselves before Yahweh, with Satan among them. The Evil One uses the opportunity to challenge God’s inherent attractiveness and his blueprint for world order. When God asks what he has been doing with his time (1:7), Satan answers a bit grudgingly that he’d been roaming the earth. His answer reveals an arrogance, a braggadocio concerning the many people across the earth who had succumbed to his evil leadership.
Thus, God taunted him with the question, “Have you considered my servant Job?” (1:8). Job was a blameless and upright man. Satan, embarrassed by the insinuation, responds in a rude and arrogant manner, questioning God’s intrinsic worth as object of human worship. God’s answer to Satan? “Very well…” (1:12). Go ahead, God said, tempt Job. Strip him of his material and familial blessings. Only do not take his life.
Satan, therefore, employed his great power to make the best use of his opportunity. He devastated Job, stripping him of his wealth, his children, and his health. Satan must have been fascinated, sitting on the edge of his “seat,” as he observed the discussion between Job and his friends. He must have been elated. However, in the end, Job remained faithful. Satan, therefore, was left to tuck his tail between his legs and set off roaming the world again to play his demonic games until the King returns.
What lesson should we draw from the portrait of Satan provided in Job’s narrative? We must remember that, just as he tempted the first couple and tormented Job, so he will tempt and torment us. He is a liar and murder. Yet, his reach is limited by God. He cannot do anything unless allowed to do so by his Creator and nemesis. Moreover, when Christ returns to set the world to rights, Satan will be enslaved eternally in the lake of fire. Thus, he should be taken seriously in during this time before Christ’s return.
Eliphaz, the first of Job’s friends to speak, was critical but not without kindness. It seems he was the oldest of the friends and probably was respecting certain social conventions in his presentation; for example, usually the oldest person in a group would be the first to speak. Eliphaz spoke of God’s holiness but in ways that were not fully biblical. For example, he regarded angels as impure. Thus, his words of wisdom were mingled with faulty human ruminations. He also spoke of Job’s misery, and had some level of sympathy, but, sadly, spoke in a moralistic tone and relied theologically on mystical experience.
What can we learn from the portrait of Eliphaz? We should glean from it that harm is caused when a well-meaning friend speaks moralistically and judgmentally to a traumatized person. We should determine never to minister to a person—especially a traumatized friend—in this manner and with this tone. Further, we must prayerfully determine not to cling stubbornly to our beliefs—as Eliphaz did—when they have been revealed as insufficient or wrong. Thus, the depiction of Eliphaz is cautionary.
Bildad’s first speeches were calloused and egregiously insensitive; he went so far as to cast judgment on Job’s recently deceased children (8:4). Further, he rejected Eliphaz’s moralistic treatment of Job’s past sins and focused almost exclusively on Job’s present stubbornness. His point was that Job was in fact under God’s judgment. Bildad’s third speech, however, was brief, perhaps because he knew his argument was weak.
What can we learn from the portrait of Bildad? From his distasteful performance, we learn how not to minister to a friend in pain. We must be very careful how we discuss a person’s painful losses and we should be attentive also to the fact that we might be misreading a friend’s instinctual response to those losses.
Zophar’s speeches were worse even than Eliphaz’s and Bildad’s. He accused Job of being a religious idiot (11:2,12) and focused on God’s inscrutability at the expense of God’s tender mercies. In his first speech, Zophar gave a comprehensive argument that “resolved” the problem of Job’s suffering by pointing to God’s mystery and incomprehensibility. In the second speech, he was agitated (20:2) and ended his address abruptly. Further, Zophar declined to give a third speech, as it seems he realized the failure of his earlier presentations.
What can we learn from Zophar’s speeches? Even more than with Bildad, we learn how not to relate to a traumatized friend. It is inexcusable to insult a traumatized person. It is tone-deaf to think the person’s most pressing need is an elaborate theological explanation. And it is arrogant to suggest that one’s own comprehension of God’s ways is manifestly accurate.
Elihu’s speeches differed markedly from Job’s three friends, who had judged Job unfairly, demonstrated a warped view of God, and exuded a “we’re-finished-talking-with-you” air. Elihu steps onto the stage just after the three friends had finished their speeches and Job had spoken quietly and sorrowfully about his pain and confusion. Elihu’s words give evidence of humility and good will, as he was a younger person who was appropriately deferential to Job.
In his speeches, Elihu attempted set the record straight concerning God’s relation with mankind. He respected Job and wanted Job’s name to be cleared (33:32), and firmly criticized the three friends for their approach. Furthermore, in his final speech he praised the Lord. Yet, he had a narrow theological vision and an inability to fathom the depth of Job’s loss.
What can we learn from Elihu’s speeches? From Elihu, we can learn the humility and respect with which we should approach a person as disoriented and despairing as Job. From him, we can learn to defend a suffering person by telling well-intentioned persons to back off of their ham-fisted attempts to explain God’s ways. And from Elihu, we can learn that, at the end of our theological explorations, we should praise God.
Job’s wife was the person who probably knew him best. They had been an integral part of each other’s lives for years, having children and living their lives in a mutually beneficial manner alongside of one another. Yet even she could not imitate Job’s faith. After having endured the loss of her home, property, and children, she seemed to have remained faithful to God. Yet, after Job was stricken with an incurable disease, she couldn’t help but say, “Are you still holding onto your integrity? Curse God and die!” (2:9).
It appears that Job’s wife was saying something like, “Look, why spend your last hours wrestling with questions about God? You’re about to die, so stop thinking about this God who apparently has forsaken us.” Later in the narrative, after his wife’s declaration, Job expressed himself to God in a similar manner: “Are not my few days almost over? Turn away from me so I can have a moment’s joy before I got to the place of no return” (10:20-21).
What can we learn from Job’s wife? One lesson, perhaps, is loyalty. Even though her faith had faltered, there is something admirable about her fidelity to Job. Another noteworthy insight is that she was not entirely unfaithful to God. Instead, she was less faithful than her extraordinarily upright husband. So, the reader should not so quickly take her moral inventory with an eye toward dismissing her. Although her faith faltered—which is not positive—she seems a better “friend” than Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.
In his commentary on Job, The Battle for Righteousness, K.J. Popma argues that God’s references to animals was key to Job’s transformation. In chapters 38-41, often regarded as the most mysterious passages in the narrative, God repeatedly refers to his non-human creation. In some instances, he refers to the created order as a whole, such as when he asked Job rhetorically, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” (38:4). Other times, he refers to animals he created for which we still have a point of reference, such as the horse. Still, other times he refers to animals—such as the Behemoth and Leviathan—that were extinct even during Job’s day.
God’s point to Job, of which Job was already aware, is that the same God who created human life also created animal life. He further points out that, if Job wants to gain understanding of God’s sovereignty, he should reflect upon God’s creation of the animal kingdom. God created them and gave the proper domains within which to live and play. He gave them an inner life that is mostly incomprehensible to us. Animals live and die with no desire to be more than animals, and by their very existence they glorify God. Thus, Job should realize that God had created him, given him a proper domain in which to live, an allotment as human rather than a god, and the gift of being able to glorify God.
To heighten his own point, God mentions the Behemoth and Leviathan. These animals, already extinct during Job’s era, were in fact (as we now know) more colossal than depicted in the myths of Job’s day. These enormous animals were created by God, for his pleasure, as they were likewise removed from the earth according to God’s will. During their lives, they glorified God—albeit unintentionally—by their very existence. Furthermore, their creation and eventual extinction speak to God’s eternality in contrast with created being’s temporality. Yet, just as God cares for the beasts during the course of their lives, so God cares for human beings during the course of our earthly existence. Thus, existence of these beasts should help Job come to grips with life’s meaningfulness in spite of loss and death.
When choosing our inner circle, we choose not only who will be influencing our hearts and lives, but whose hearts and lives we will be influencing. Thus, let us choose wisely, “testing the spirits.” Let us trust people who have good character, are dependable, and who give wise counsel. Our ability to do so will determine, in a significant manner, the outcome of our lives.